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Study: Social networkers have more ethics problems at work

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It’s hard to tell whether it’s a case of correlation or causation, but according to a new study published this week, employees who are super active on social networking sites have a very different idea of what is appropriate workplace behavior than other workers.

For starters, active social networkers — defined in the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, a study published this week by the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center (ERC) as people who spend more than 30 percent of the workday participating on social networking sites — are much more likely to view their current jobs as temporary. 72 percent of active social networkers polled said they plan to change employers within the next five years, compared to 39 percent of non-active social networkers.

From the 2011 NBES (click to enlarge)

That feeling of transience may lead to such workers feeling like it’s no big deal to swipe a few things from the office supply cabinet: 46 percent of active social networkers said they thought it was acceptable to take a copy of work software home and use it on their personal computer, while just seven percent of non-active social networkers said the same.

Sharing the office’s secrets — good and bad

Not surprisingly, active social networkers are also more likely to be loose-lipped online about what goes on at work. 42 percent of active social networkers said they felt it was acceptable to blog or tweet negatively about their company or their coworkers, while just six percent of non-active social networkers saw such behavior as OK. But it’s not all bad news — a majority of active social networkers (56 percent) said they would also be likely to post about good things their coworkers did.

Another serious finding from the survey is that active social networkers were much more likely than other workers to witness ethical violations while on the job, and were also more likely to have received negative retaliation for reporting such trangressions. It’s hard to determine whether this is due to social networking, or just because of the people involved: Active social networkers account for just 11 percent of all workers who engage with social media, and are primarily males in managerial roles between the ages of 18 to 44, the ERC said.

From the 2011 NBES (click to enlarge)

What it means for big businesses

It’s all very interesting data, especially since it comes from such a reputable source: The ERC has been around for 90 years, and the headline sponsors of the NBES include Walmart(s WMT), Northrop Grumman(s NOC), BP(s BP) and Altria(s MO). The ERC seems to take the data gleaned about social networking very seriously, writing in the report that this new environment could pose serious problems for companies:

“One of the key findings of NBES 2011 was the unique–and often troubling–experiences of active social networkers. Active social networkers observe misconduct at a higher rate and are more likely to experience retaliation if they choose to report…

Regardless of their employer’s policy on social networking on the job, employees are expressing a blurring of the lines between personal and professional relationships, and that could pose new risks to companies. Similarly, as employees become more active on social networks, the more they express a tolerant view of questionable behaviors that could pose business risks.”

For many of us, social networking feels like it’s been around forever. But for businesses — especially larger, older ones, like those that sponsor the NBES — this is a brand new thing to contend with. And the people who are heavy users of social networks may just be more savvy than their unplugged counterparts. In this economy, for example, it might just be realistic for people to view their jobs as likely to change in the next few years — not evidence of disloyalty. One thing looks certain: With social networking showing no signs of going away, big companies will have to find a way to deal with the ethical changes that come along with it.

15 Responses to “Study: Social networkers have more ethics problems at work”

  1. The Millenials

    Umm #duh. The people that are active social media users are younger. Old people suck and need to get with it already.

    If you don’t like negative things said, don’t do negative things and don’t blame them for speaking the truth. Taking software home? Seriously? Nobody gives a crud about licenses, be glad they didn’t pirate it and want to work at home off the clock. I keep all my information, if I spent the time to collect it, I want to be able to refer to it. You should always keep an eye on competitors. And pressure to compromise standards? Maybe they need to change. Observed misconduct? Yeah because they are plugged in to people. If you really think this is a problem, or blame the technology you are really stupid. The issue is managers that think these are problems and don’t know how to manage the younger crowd that knows more than they do. Love, The Millenials.

  2. Seems to me that there is a missing analysis of reasons they are online from work.
    I would bet that those who are on social networks as part of their job have a different response profile than those who are online for other reasons.

    I would venture further that those that are online because they do not like their job or are bored are the ones who “plan to change employers within the next five years.”

    It would help if a little sociology and common sense were added to this analysis.

  3. Asher Bond

    It sounds like business and friendship cultures are no longer constrained to mutual exclusivity. Is the only solution ethics all around? In business and in pleasure?

  4. …please do more research before writing articles like this.

    Yes, the data shows a correlation between lax ethics and Social Networking, but Social Networking participation is an irrelevant article of data.

    In this case, it’s the implication of the data that is significant. Young people. Young people make up the vast majority of those who frequent Social Networks.

    Young people are also significantly less likely to be settled into permanent employment, making that article of information both obvious and irrelevant as well.

    Young people also have a vastly different understanding of the ethical weight of software, and virtual information as a result of the culture surrounding them, so this correlation would ALSO be obvious, and in all likelihood, irrelevant to their use of Social Networking.

    I feel no motivation to refute every notion you put forth, but I hope the implication is obvious.

    Delete this article, and try again. Perhaps, this time, you can examine the data, and make up some observations that make more sense. Like how an overuse of Social Networking can leave many users jaded to the consequences of their words in real social situations, making them far more prone to incite verbal conflict in the workplace.

    • Well stated, Caligulous. The correlation between lax ethics and Social Networking is a stretch anyway, and the cause/effect analysis is flawed because it doesn’t take into account a plethora other influencing (and somewhat more important) factors… some of which you mention.

    • Very well stated, Caligulous. The ERC’s (Ethics Resource Center) correlation between lax ethics and Social Networking is a BIG stretch, and the cause/effect analysis is completely flawed because it doesn’t take into account a plethora other influencing (and somewhat more dominant) factors. The ERC really missed the mark on this one. It is unfortunate. One has to wonder how many C-suite folks who already have misconceptions about applicability of Social to their business will read this and think it validly reinforces their negative viewpoint of Social.

    • Why should employers be able to control what you say and or do on Social Network sites? If its a case that people are willing to discuss negative things online, might that indicate there is a problem within the company?

    • If people are using social network to discuss a company they work for in a negative manor, might that indicate there are bigger issues with the employer. Personally I dont think businesses should be allow to control what you do on Social Media outside of business hours.